It was Sunday Bloody Sunday in the upper reaches of the NFL Power Rankings.
Six of the top 10 teams in our rankings entering Week 9 went down on Sunday. Two of those teams -- the Bills and Cowboys -- were involved in stunning upsets. The losses destabilized the "superpower zone" of our rankings and brought into focus an increasingly apparent reality at the season's virtual midpoint: This thing is wide open, especially in the bonkers AFC.
As is my call, I now attempt to make sense of the nonsensical. Join me on this week's journey.
Watch the NFL Power Rankings show with Dan and Matt "Money" Smith every Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET on NFL Network.
NOTE: Up/down arrows reflect movement from the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings.
Previous rank: No. 3
No Kyler Murray. No Nuk Hopkins. No problem for the Cardinals, who received robust contributions from Colt McCoy and Christian Kirk and a monster performance from James Conner in a 31-17 win over the 49ers at Levi's Stadium. It was pretty much close to a perfect afternoon for Kliff Kingsbury. The coach picked up a division win that further buried a rival, while his two most important players rested injuries that could be season-wreckers if not treated with the necessary caution. Back to Conner: The first-year Cardinal had three scores on Sunday and now leads the league with 11 touchdowns. After some dicey times in the desert, general manager Steve Keim is on a heater.
Previous rank: No. 5
It's time to ask questions about Rob Gronkowski and the long-term impact he can make with the Bucs for the balance of 2021. Following a sizzling start to the season, Gronk missed four games with rib and lung injuries, then exited the Week 8 loss to the Saints after just six snaps with back spasms. It's the same back that required three separate surgeries from 2009 to 2016. The Bucs have the luxury of former first-round pick O.J. Howard's presence to absorb Gronkowski's snaps, but we saw how unstoppable this offense was when Gronk was healthy in September. It's fair to wonder if we'll see that guy again.
Previous rank: No. 9
Derrick Henry might be the most talented player on the Titans, but dismissing this resilient and battle-tested team is always a mistake. Case in point: Tennessee's 28-16 dismantling of the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football. Playing against an NFC powerhouse, the Titans looked like the more prepared, better disciplined team. Tennessee's defense has been a revelation during a brilliant four-game winning streak that has included conquests over the Bills, Chiefs, Colts and Rams. The star in L.A. was Jeffery Simmons, who had three of the Titans' five sacks of Matthew Stafford. That's more sacks than any member of the franchise has recorded in a single game in 13 years.
Previous rank: No. 1
You can pile on Jordan Love for an underwhelming first start as a pro, but make no mistake: The Packers don't lose on Sunday if Aaron Rodgers had made the decisions that could have kept him in the starting lineup. The Chiefs and their deeply dysfunctional offense were dying to hand Sunday's game to Green Bay, but a late touchdown to Allen Lazard is all the Love-led offense could muster in a frustrating 13-7 loss. The offense was bad, but the Packers were an outright mess on special teams: Green Bay failed to convert two field-goal attempts and muffed a punt that led to a Chiefs field goal. Add it up, and the math ain't pretty.
Previous rank: No. 2
This game will humble you. The Cowboys entered Sunday as a universally recognized superpower in the NFC. Then the day brought a blowout loss that was far worse than the 30-16 final score indicated. This was a defeat that summoned bad memories of 2020: The Broncos rushed for 190 yards against a disinterested-looking Dallas defense, while Dak Prescott wasn't able to eclipse 100 yards passing until there were only 10 minutes remaining on the game clock. The thousands of Broncos fans who invaded AT&T Stadium got their money's worth: This was a three-hour party at Dallas' expense. Mike McCarthy's staff has a clear directive: Study the tape ... then burn it. "Definitely shocked," Prescott said. "They whooped us in every aspect."
Previous rank: No. 7
The Ravens won on Sunday with a relentless offense that wouldn't let up. Lamar Jackson threw for 266 yards and ran for 120 more, Devonta Freeman looked rejuvenated in a supporting role and Justin Tucker delivered the overtime field goal that clinched a 34-31 win over the Vikings. The Ravens remain an imperfect operation -- the defense was pushed around early and late, and the special teams gave up a 98-yard kickoff return for touchdown on the first play of the second half that would have broken a weaker team. That's not Baltimore, a tough and resilient squad that enters the season's midpoint atop the AFC North.
Previous rank: No. 6
Sometimes you just don't have it. Better in November than January, right? The Rams were an undisciplined mess on Sunday Night Football, committing a season-high 12 penalties for 115 yards in a 28-16 loss to the surging Titans at Hollywood Park. An extremely suspect roughing-the-passer call on Aaron Donald was the nail in the coffin for L.A., but Sean McVay's team never seriously threatened once the Titans reeled off 21 points in the second quarter -- 14 of them coming off Matthew Stafford interceptions, including a killer pick-six by Kevin Byard. An ugly performance, no doubt, but even great teams can deliver a dud during a long season. The Rams hope this was it.
Previous rank: No. 4
Josh Allen didn't sugarcoat his evaluation of the Bills after a stunning 9-6 loss to the Jaguars. "Played like s---," Allen said after the game. "Excuse my language, but that starts with me. So I've got to be better for this team." Allen turned the ball over three times on Sunday, but it wasn't his struggle alone: The offensive line continually failed its star QB, while play-caller Brian Daboll was unable to cook up an in-game adjustment to counter Jacksonville's two-high safety scheme that took away Buffalo's beloved big-play strikes. Is the book out on Daboll's offense in the same way we've seen Andy Reid's formerly unstoppable attack sputter out in Kansas City? The coming weeks will tell us a lot about this team and its Super Bowl hopes.
Previous rank: No. 12
The Chargers got the Justin Herbert performance they needed and returned to the win column as a result. The talented second-year passer was back to his gunslinger ways in a hard-fought 27-24 road win over the Eagles that -- combined with a Raiders loss -- moved the Chargers into a first-place tie in the AFC West at the season's virtual midpoint. Herbert completed 32 of 38 passes for 356 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, rebounding from back-to-back subpar performances in losses to the Patriots and Ravens. "We have an elite quarterback that can really throw it anywhere on the field," coach Brandon Staley said after the game. Herbert next gets a Vikings defense that just surrendered 500 yards in an overtime loss to Baltimore.
Previous rank: No. 16
The Browns will not miss Odell Beckham Jr.. Cleveland's offense looked just fine without its No. 1 wide receiver who was never a No. 1 receiver at all -- scoring early and often in a 41-16 win over the Bengals. Nick Chubb's 70-yard TD rumble in the third quarter served as the knockout blow, but the win also featured a strong performance from Baker Mayfield, a solid starter who was unfairly maligned during Beckham's apparent smear campaign-by-proxy on the way out the door. It's been an up-and-down season for the Browns, but this remains a talented, well-coached team capable of ripping off a big run.
Previous rank: No. 15
If Bill Belichick could face off against Sam Darnold every week, the Patriots would never lose a game. The coach continued his mastery over the former first-round pick, who threw three interceptions without a touchdown drive in New England's 24-6 win over the Panthers in Charlotte. It's the third straight win for the Pats, who are within a half-game of the Bills in a suddenly tight AFC East race. Mac Jones was better than he was Week 8 in Los Angeles, but the Pats won because of their opportunistic defense -- J.C. Jackson had two INTs, including the game-icing pick-six -- and a run game that rolled up 151 yards and a touchdown. A Week 10 showdown with the Browns could have huge playoff ramifications.
Previous rank: No. 13
The good news is obvious: Even without style points, the Chiefs won consecutive nail-biters over a seven-day period and enter the back half of their schedule just a game out in the loss column in the AFC West. The bad news is equally obvious: The offense is still puzzlingly, profoundly broken. Fixing it will be a titanic in-season challenge for Andy Reid and his staff, but let's give credit to a Kansas City defense that has kept the reigning conference champs afloat in tense times. Steve Spagnuolo's D dialed up the pressure on Jordan Love (seven hits) and took a shutout deep into the fourth quarter. The Chiefs exist in a strange upside-down world where the defense is being asked to carry the offense. None of this feels sustainable.
Previous rank: No. 8
The Saints deserve credit for staging a dramatic comeback against the Falcons at a delirious Superdome on Sunday, but the disappointment of the game went beyond the late Cordarrelle Patterson catch-and-run and Younghoe Koo kick that sealed their fate. Trevor Siemian stepped in for Jameis Winston and got very little help from his pass catchers, who had five drops before the game reached halftime. Neither Siemian nor Taysom Hill would be classified as electric throwers of the football, so New Orleans can't afford to kick away opportunities to make chunk plays like they did repeatedly against Atlanta. Michael Thomas is not walking through that door -- leaving the Saints with a problem they may not be able to address until the spring.
Previous rank: No. 14
Ray-Ray McCloud's fumble let the Bears back in the game, and the defense faltered with a chance to close out a win, but Ben Roethlisberger still had enough juice to save the day. Big Ben led Pittsburgh on the 50th game-winning drive of his Hall of Fame career, a possession that culminated with a Chris Boswell field goal that secured a 29-27 victory. The Steelers have won 19 straight home games on Monday Night Football. It doesn't get any easier from here: Pittsburgh's remaining opponents have a .553 winning percentage. You get the feeling that every week is going to feel like a street fight with this team.
Previous rank: No. 10
The Raiders capped a tragic and tumultuous week with a painful loss to the Giants at the Meadowlands. Derek Carr threw a third-quarter pick-six and lost a fumble with the Raiders just 13 yards from the potential game-tying score in the final minute. Vegas had hoped for a positive result on the field five days after the deadly DUI crash that prompted multiple felony charges against Henry Ruggs III, who was released by the team after the accident. On Monday, the same day Vegas signed veteran DeSean Jackson to replace Ruggs, the team cut ties with troubled cornerback Damon Arnette, another 2020 first-round pick. Shutting out outside issues has become a weekly challenge for this group.
Previous rank: No. 11
The Bengals were blown out at home by the Browns on Sunday and have been outscored 55-16 in their last four-and-a-half quarters of play, dating back to Week 8's collapse against the Jets. Denzel Ward's 99-yard pick-six set the tone for a frustrating afternoon for the Bengals, who turned the ball over three times and surrendered big-play scores through the air and on the ground to a Cleveland team that beat them in all phases. Turbulence has arrived, and this will be an important test for Zac Taylor in his quest to instill a new culture in Cincinnati. Will Cincy adjust and move forward ... or crumble and fall apart, like so many past Bengals teams?
Previous rank: No. 23
In their first game without Von Miller, the Broncos were the best version of themselves in a stunning upset of the Cowboys. The running game -- led by Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon -- operated as a runaway train, while Teddy Bridgewater outplayed Dak Prescott with an efficient performance that saw big contributions from Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick. Then there was the defense, which shut out the No. 1 offense in football until garbage time and made you think Denver might still have greatness on that side of the ball -- even with a franchise legend like Miller cashing his checks elsewhere. This was the type of performance that changes the way you look at a team.
Previous rank: No. 20
The Colts were an absolute freight train against the Jets. Frank Reich's squad was dominant from the jump on Thursday Night Football, scoring touchdowns on six of its first seven possessions en route to a 45-30 win at Lucas Oil Stadium. Jonathan Taylor's 78-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the exclamation point on an outrageous performance by the Colts' ground game, which rolled up an NFL season-best 260 rushing yards at 8.7 yards per carry by the waning minutes of the third quarter. Not all opponents will be as terribly unprepared as the Jets were in prime time, but the Colts sent another signal that they are a resilient team that appears unwilling to concede the AFC South.
Previous rank: No. 18
Geno Smith lit up the Jaguars in Week 8, giving the Seahawks some necessary positive vibes as they went into their Week 9 bye. Now the hope is that Russell Wilson will return to action and put together a win streak that gets Seattle back into the postseason picture. As expected, the Seahawks mostly struggled during the time their franchise star was on the mend from finger surgery, dropping three of four games in which Wilson missed some or all of the action. Smith did a great job powering the offense through DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in the blowout win over Jacksonville, and it's a game plan that should continue going forward. If the Seahawks don't Let Russ Cook now, they'll be preparing their own meals from home when the playoffs arrive.
Previous rank: No. 22
The Falcons deserve a trophy for figuring out how to unlock Cordarrelle Patterson. The veteran is one of the greatest special teams players in history, but it's taken until his ninth season for a coach -- hello, Arthur Smith -- to transform him into a consistent offensive weapon. Patterson was at it again in a dramatic win over the Saints, piling up 136 scrimmage yards, including the dramatic 64-yard catch-and-run that set up Younghoe Koo's 29-yard field goal as time expired. Patterson played the role of savior after a hideous fourth-quarter collapse summoned ghosts of 28-3. Said Patterson after the win: "We just like to give our fans a heart attack, just to keep them on their toes, make sure they are paying attention." We're watching.
Previous rank: No. 19
The Vikings are a formidable team with a fatal flaw: They have no idea how to close out games. It happened again on Sunday in Baltimore, where Minnesota kicked away a 14-point third-quarter lead in a crushing 34-31 overtime loss to the Ravens. The Kirk Cousins-led offense remains maddeningly hot and cold, with too many quickly extinguished possessions that put the defense in a bad spot. The Ravens ran 89 plays compared to 52 for the Vikings -- and when Anthony Barr came up with an acrobatic interception in overtime, Minnesota's offense responded with a three-and-out that doomed the team. This has been a season of immense frustration; it's fair to wonder if the Vikings are close to a breaking point.
Previous rank: No. 25
The arrival has come later than expected, but the defense is here now. The Giants harassed the Raiders into three turnovers on Sunday, including a pick-six and the Derek Carr strip-sack in the final minute en route to a 23-16 win at MetLife Stadium. These have been gutty recent performances by New York, which played once again without star running back Saquon Barkley or top receiver Sterling Shepard. Daniel Jones has steadied the ship on offense, but it's Patrick Graham's defense that's making New York relevant again: Big Blue has allowed just 13 points per game over the past three games after giving up 29.5 points on average in their first six contests. That'll play.
Previous rank: No. 24
The outcome was disappointing, but there were still plenty of positives to take out of Monday's 29-27 loss to the Steelers. Matt Nagy's team kept its composure in a raucous road environment and continued to battle on a night when it felt like every call from officials went against them. Then there was the late go-ahead drive engineered by Justin Fields: A seven-play, 75-yard march that featured a 39-yard completion to Allen Robinson and a gorgeous touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney. Sean Desai's defense was a discombobulated mess in the final Steelers drive that cost Chicago the game, but Fields' heady performance was another indication the Bears finally have a young quarterback they can build around.
Previous rank: No. 17
It's time to ask some hard questions. The Niners laid yet another egg at home on Sunday, a 31-17 setback to the Cardinals -- the team's 11th loss in 12 games at Levi's Stadium. A dreary defense had no answers for an Arizona team playing without Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins or Chase Edmonds, who was lost on the Cardinals' first offensive snap of the game. Things were only marginally better on the other side of the ball, where the return of George Kittle failed to revive an offense that continues to fade further away from the glories of 2019. The 49ers lack so much this season -- on Sunday, it was effort and urgency against a compromised rival.
Previous rank: No. 21
The Sam Darnold era in Carolina reached its nadir on Sunday against the Patriots. The struggling quarterback appeared skittish and tentative in Joe Brady's offense, throwing three interceptions -- including a crushing pick-six -- in Darnold's latest nightmare performance against Bill Belichick. Matt Rhule elected to keep Darnold behind center for the entire game, despite his struggles, but Rhule could lose his team if he doesn't give backup P.J. Walker a chance to fix a broken offense. Carolina's decision to trade for Darnold and pick up his fifth-year option is beginning to look like a huge error in judgment by the organization.
Previous rank: No. 26
Nick Sirianni cannot buy a win at home. The rookie head coach fell to 0-4 at Lincoln Financial Field -- and received an unwelcome bouquet of flowers for his team's efforts -- following a 27-24 loss to the Chargers. Philadelphia showed progress on offense. The running game thrived, while Jalen Hurts and rookie wideout DeVonta Smith showed some welcome chemistry in the second half, but the defense continued to struggle, especially against the pass. Chargers star Justin Herbert became the fifth opposing quarterback to complete at least 80 percent of his pass attempts in a game against the Eagles this season. It's a brutal trend, tying an NFL record held by the 2015 Bucs. Lots of season left.
Previous rank: No. 30
Josh Allen was the dominant force in the Bills game on Sunday. Just not the Josh Allen we all expected. Linebacker Josh Allen -- the Jaguars' Josh Allen -- was a stud in an upset win over Buffalo, piling up a game-high eight tackles to go with a sack, interception and fumble recovery in the 9-6 stunner. Allen and the rest of the Jags' front seven were relentless in pursuit of the Bills' Josh Allen, who was routinely chased from the pocket and forced to check down to receivers against a defense that refused to let Buffalo beat it with downfield strikes. After a tumultuous -- and, frankly, disastrous -- start to his tenure in Jacksonville, Urban Meyer has a signature victory to build off.
Previous rank: No. 28
Much was made of Washington's fearsome front seven entering the season. Anchored by a pair of rising stars in Chase Young and Montez Sweat, the belief was that Young & Sweaty (my nickname, not theirs) would disrupt game plans on a weekly basis and put Washington in position to successfully defend its NFC East title. It hasn't worked out that way. Young, last year's No. 2 overall pick, has disappointed with just 1.5 sacks, and Sweat is now on the shelf for up to a month after sustaining a broken jaw in Week 8's loss to the Broncos. Ron Rivera's defense was built to win up front -- it's just one of many things that haven't come together as planned for the Football Team.
Previous rank: No. 29
The Dolphins committed five turnovers on Sunday, a guaranteed way to ensure a loss in the NFL -- unless you're playing the Houston Texans. A win is a win, but questions continue to swirl around the quarterback position after a broken finger forced Tua Tagovailoa out of action due to injury for the fifth time this season. Tua has been unable to stay healthy at the college or pro levels, a reality that doesn't build the case that he's the long-term answer for the Dolphins. This all still feels like it's headed in a certain -- morally dubious -- direction in Miami. A bad look for everyone involved.
Previous rank: No. 27
Why is Jets Sadness so predictable? Mike White set records and galvanized the fanbase in a Week 8 win over Cincinnati at the Meadowlands. Four days later, an injured White watched from the sideline as the Jets authored one of the worst defensive performances in franchise history. The Colts' offense did whatever it wanted on Thursday night, scoring touchdowns on six of its first seven possessions en route to a gnarly 45-23 blowout at Lucas Oil Stadium. How bad was it for the Jets? The Colts needed less than three full quarters to amass the most rushing yards by any team in a game this season. It’s all a terrible look for first-year head coach Robert Saleh, whose defense has been arguably football’s worst for a month. Four days of happiness for Jets fans. That's it.
Previous rank: No. 31
The second half of the season could go one of two ways for Dan Campbell: The Lions could continue to fight and hang tough in games and eventually pull out a win or three; or, the losses create a snowball effect, hopelessness sets in and, eventually, Detroit reaches an unsavory final record that nobody wants connected to their résumé. The bye arrived at a helpful time for a team trying to escape an avalanche. “This season is not over,” Tight end T.J. Hockenson said after the team's Week 8 loss to the Eagles. “And we’re able to write the story with what guys want to do, what we want to do as a team and where we want to go with this organization and with this city.”
Previous rank: No. 32
Tyrod Taylor was supposed to bring veteran stability to the Texans in his return to the lineup after missing six games with a hamstring injury. That didn’t happen. Taylor threw three interceptions and was sacked five times in a grisly 17-9 loss to the Dolphins that made Houston the 12th team in NFL history to follow a season-opening win with eight consecutive defeats. Sunday’s results aside, Taylor probably gives Houston the best chance to win on a weekly basis, but it might make more sense to continue an evaluation on rookie passer Davis Mills. Week 18 can’t arrive soon enough for this franchise.